The New Orleans Saints rebounded in 2013, as head coach Sean Payton made his return to the team and helped Drew Brees cut down on turnovers. With Payton back, Brees didn’t feel like he had to put the team on his shoulders on every single play, while the offense as a whole gradually got more balanced.
Once the playoffs hit, the Saints were a borderline ball control offense, as they tried to help out their defense and win time of possession on the road. It worked against the Philadelphia Eagles, and now there is talk of a major philosophy change in New Orleans.
Whether or not that ends up being the case remains to be seen, but it is clear that the Saints still need to fill holes in their two-year old 3-4 defense, while they could also use some youth on offense.
To get a better grasp on some moves Payton and co. might make during the 2014 NFL Draft, let’s break down the Saints’ biggest draft needs and see what some of their options might be:
Offensive needs: C, WR, RB
Drew Brees is the quality of passer that doesn’t need the greatest receivers to put points on the board, but that doesn’t mean Nick Toon is an adequate 3rd receiver. The Saints have taken a couple first round wide receivers in the past (Dante Stallworth and Robert Meachem), so it wouldn’t be completely out of character for them to take one with the 27th pick. Joe Morgan is returning from a shredded knee and Robert Meachem brings only the deep ball to the table. But considering the depth of receivers in this draft, and the fact that their best guys have come in later rounds, I’d guess the Saints have their eyes on a few mid-round receivers.
The Saints lost Darren Sproles via a trade to the Eagles, but they should be able to make the running game work for now with Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram. Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas could tempt them if he slides to the middle rounds, but the sense is they shipped Sproles off for a reason, and they may not be trying to just get younger at the position.
They may take a running back late in the draft, but if they’re looking to bolster the offense, Center might be the biggest immediate need. A replacement for Tim Lelito could make the Saints’ offensive line pretty prolific, as if Drew Brees needs more time to get the ball away.
Defensive needs: OLB, CB, ILB
Sean Payton got the Saints defense back on track last season with the help of new DC Rob Ryan, but there are still upgrades needed if the Saints want to compete with the 49ers and Seahawks. Specifically, the Saints need new linebackers. Junior Galette is the only linebacker on the team whose job is truly safe. His performance has been impressive, but Victor Butler, Curtis Lofton, and especially David Hawthorne could, or should, be replaced.
Kony Ealy is a hot name for the outside of their 3-4, but he might be long gone. In fact, I’d guess that the top outside linebackers will all be gone by the time the Saints first pick comes, so expect them to look to fill this position in the second or third round. Inside linebacker could also be targeted in those rounds, unless Alabama’s C.J. Mosley somehow slides to them.
The secondary is pretty solid, especially at safety. While Champ Bailey isn’t the stud he was when he joined the league, he’s still no slouch, but an early-round cornerback could slot into nickel or dime packages and wind up taking over when Bailey or Keenen Lewis is gone. Kyle Fuller or Jason Verrett would be a nice addition to the Saints defense for this year and into the future and are shaping up as nice first round options.